Continuing our coverage of the newly-announced Nikon Z6 and Z7 mirrorless cameras, let’s take a step back from the excitement and interest surrounding these two releases and examine the most important features Nikon did not include. As a first-generation release, some compromises were inevitable, but post-announcement chatter has gravitated toward a couple issues in particular. Below, I’ll cover the most glaring faults of the Z6 and Z7, as well as smaller issues that slipped a bit under people’s radars.
Single XQD Card Slot
This is the big one, so let’s cover it first.
The Nikon Z6 and Z7 each have just one card slot, fitting an XQD card (which will eventually be compatible with CFexpress as well, after a firmware update).
The good news about this is that XQD cards are, in many ways, a better technology than SD. They offer much higher theoretical maximum speeds, allowing for greater frame rates and buffer capacities in the future. We’ve compared the different types of memory cards in the past, and XQD led the pack. In that sense, Nikon made the right decision to go with XQD, even though it is not yet widely supported on the market, because it is arguably the most capable technology available today.
Unfortunately, the fact that there is only a single card slot is the real concern. Even though card failures in general are relatively rare, a segment of Nikon shooters simply refuses to purchase a camera (or strongly leans against it) if it doesn’t have a backup. Although perhaps Nikon had a good reason to avoid including a dual card slot here, their decision definitely did shift the post-announcement discussion into negative territory.
Then again, keep in mind that the venerable Nikon D700 only had a single card slot. Same for the first two generations of the Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras, including the A7 II and A7R II. (It is only the most recent Sony generation that has added a second SD card slot, barely more than a year ago.) Even the Leica M10 has a single SD card slot, so this is hardly unusual!
Compared to all those cameras, the Nikon is ahead. XQD cards are built and constructed more solidly and durably than SD cards, which can bend and break more easily by comparison. In some sense, especially taking speed considerations into account, it is like the difference between a spinning hard drive and an SSD. If Nikon had released this camera with a single SD or CF card slot, it would have been a bigger problem; as is, it still isn’t a good decision, but at least there’s an upside to it.
Verdict: Not good, but not apocalyptic. The lack of dual card slots matters, and some photographers will justifiably consider it a deal-breaker. But to say that this kills the Nikon Z6 or Z7 as a whole is pretty shortsighted. In my opinion, it’s more of an issue for Nikon’s brand appearance, because now every comparison between these Z cameras and others on the market will have to point out the missing card slot :)
Battery Life: 310 (Z6) and 330 (Z7) Images
Here’s the other big one – battery life. The Nikon Z6 and Z7 created a stir when they were announced with battery life specifications of just 310 and 330 images respectively, as measured by CIPA. Seeing as though Nikon DSLRs can have battery lives that are much, much higher (such as the D850’s 1840 shots), this number seems a little out of left field.
The problem, though, is that we don’t have the Z6 and Z7 to test side-by-side existing options on the market. The real battery life performances of cameras is often higher than what CIPA standards suggest, so long as you use them carefully.
One tester at Dpreview, using the Z7, said “In normal use we’ve got 1600+ shots and some 4K clips out of a single charge. It’s not DSLR level, but it’s a lot better (as always) than the bare CIPA figure might suggest” (link to that comment).
That’s so wildly different from 330 shots that I find it hard to know what to believe. Still, I certainly can’t get 1600 shots and video out of my Nikon D800e when used solely in live-view mode, at least in normal usage, so by that standard it seems quite good.
Personally, I rely on live view quite extensively with my DSLR setup, since I do a lot of landscape photography that requires magnification to check focus (and benefits from the live view preview, where what you see is what you get). I frequently find myself changing batteries after 300-400 shots or fewer. Indeed, on my recent hike through Iceland, I took 1400 photos in nine days and exhausted seven batteries along the way. In part, that was because of the cold, but it’s also because of the slow-paced and live-view-heavy nature of how I tend to do landscape photography. If that’s how you use your DSLR as well, you may not find the Z6 and Z7 to be much worse, if at all.
It is also good news for long-time Nikon shooters that we can use our existing EN-EL 15 and 15a batteries with the Z6 and Z7, even though we can’t charge them via USB C. I already have at least seven spare batteries floating around, and replacing them would be quite expensive! It’s possible that Nikon sacrificed some CIPA testing specs specifically to keep this compatibility. If so, that would have been a tough decision, but my impression is that Nikon made the right choice.
In short, I’m still holding out to test the Z6 and Z7 to see how their battery life compares, so I can’t say anything definitive for now. Maybe live-view heavy Nikon users will find the mirrorless battery life better than that of a DSLR. Or, perhaps the opposite is true – these cameras may not have any battery life to speak of at all, which would be a big problem for Nikon indeed. It’s up in the air.
Verdict: Unknown. We already know the mirrorless will fall short compared to a DSLR shot through the optical viewfinder. At this point, we’re waiting to see how much longer/shorter the battery life is compared to using a DSLR in live view, or a mix of live view and viewfinder.
High FPS Limitations and Buffer
Another much-talked-about issue for the Z6 and Z7 is that the camera’s ultra-high FPS mode comes with some noticeable compromises. Although the Z6 shoots an impressive 12 frames per second, and the 45-megapixel Z7 manages 9 FPS, not everything is perfect when you use these extreme frame rate modes.
First, the buffer of these two cameras isn’t especially large. With the Z6, you can shoot three seconds of 12 FPS shooting for a total of 36 images. The Z7 allows 2.5 seconds of 9 FPS shooting for a total of 22 or 23 images. After that point, the camera will start to slow down significantly. This puts the Z7 roughly at the level of the D750, and the Z6 between the D750 and D810.
Here is how the Z6 and Z7 stack up to some of Nikon’s recent DSLRs, based on what we know so far:
|RAW File Type|
|* Maximum FPS without and with optional battery pack in full resolution (FX)|
|Nikon D610 (24.3 MP)||6||21||14|
|Nikon D750 (24.3 MP)||6.5||25||15|
|Nikon D810 (36.3 MP)||5||47||28|
|Nikon D850 (45.7 MP)||7/9||170||51|
|Nikon D5 (20.8 MP)||12||200||200|
Keep in mind that both mirrorless cameras come with some additional compromises when you shoot at the highest frame rates, too. With either camera, any frame rate faster than 5.5 FPS will lock exposure to the first frame of the sequence, so every photo thereafter has to use the same settings. Manual shooters won’t even notice, but aperture-priority users might under certain conditions.
Also, you’re limited to 9 FPS with the Z6 and 8 FPS with the Z7 if you want to shoot 14-bit RAW. (You can only shoot TIFF, JPEG, or 12-bit RAW at higher frame rates.) See Nikon’s product brochure for specifics – pages 46, 73, and 77.
The good news is that, by all indications, AF-C tracking continues to work exactly like normal even at the highest frame rates of both cameras. So, if you’re fine with 12-bit RAW and auto-exposure lock, these cameras are certainly above-average for sports and wildlife, at least from an FPS perspective. 12 FPS and 9 FPS are great numbers for a 24 megapixel and 45 megapixel camera, even if they do come with some compromises.
Verdict: It depends on what you shoot. If you’re looking for these cameras as a landscape, travel, or portrait option, I see no reason that any of the above issues will matter. But if you’re choosing either of these cameras specifically for wildlife and sports photography, you’ll need to weigh the importance of AE and 14-bit RAW during your high-speed capture, as well as a so-so buffer.
New Autofocus Organization
Another issue for sports and wildlife shooters, especially those who are coming from Nikon DSLRs, is that the autofocus system on the Z6 and Z7 is organized differently than what Nikon has done in the past.
Gone is the dedicated autofocus mode button on the bottom-front-left of the camera, which let you swap between the various autofocus point modes like 3D tracking, group mode, d9/21/51, and so on (as well as AF-C vs AF-S vs AF-A area modes). Also gone is the existence of some specific AF point modes at all – no group mode, and only a d9-equivalent tracking mode. To me, that is the biggest issue, since I tend to find d21 or d25 to be about ideal in terms of tracking erratically-moving subjects.
Another issue is that it can take more time initially to lock onto a subject when you’re tracking across the entire frame, since you need to reset your tracking point to the center each time you decide to change subjects. The good news, if you’re photographing people, is that you have a workaround – you can jump focus from face to face without resetting your point to the center. So, this is more of an issue for wildlife photographers.
From a handling perspective, the good news at least is that you don’t need to enter a menu to change autofocus point modes. Instead, you can assign a custom button to this purpose. Although the Z6 and Z7 only have two dedicated custom function buttons on the front of the camera, you can also program the movie record button to change focus mode/AF-area mode. Personally, that’s what I plan to do. (At some level, I find that to be a better location than where the dedicated autofocus mode button used to be.)
On balance, it seems like Nikon downgraded their autofocus organization options in the Z6 and Z7. At the very least, this is the sort of thing that takes some time to get used to. This one hurts wildlife photographers most, since portrait and sports photographers can simply use the face-tracking autofocus to get around the biggest issue.
Verdict: It’s a downgrade, but the amount depends upon what subjects you shoot. Portrait and sports photographers will be disappointed primarily by the lack of d21/25/51/etc. autofocus point modes, as well as Group AF mode. Wildlife photographers, on top of that, won’t be happy that you need to reset the AF point to the center each time you change subjects (assuming you’re tracking them across the entire frame). Landscape photographers probably find this whole section amusing.
No Eye-Focus AF
Another concern I have seen repeated a few times is about eye-focus AF, which is found on some Sony and Fuji cameras.
This autofocus setting is quite useful, pinpointing a subject’s eye rather than just their face in a photograph. (As it’s implemented today, you can tell the camera whether to prioritize the closer or farther eye, too.)
Portrait photographers have the often difficult task of making sure their subject’s nose isn’t in focus while the eyes are blurry, or even eyelashes versus iris! While the Nikon Z6 and Z7 do have face-tracking abilities, they don’t include eye-focus AF, which puts them behind some of the competition.
This certainly doesn’t matter for every photo. It only impacts images where you are close enough to your subject for there to be a noticeable difference in sharpness between one eye versus the other, or one eye versus the nose. If you’re using a smaller aperture or doing a group portrait, it’s a non-issue.
However, if you are taking pictures where the portrait subject fills the frame, or if you’re using an especially wide aperture (say, I don’t know, f/0.95), it can make a difference. Hopefully, in the next iteration of the Z6 and Z7 – or, dare I ask, in a firmware update – Nikon will include this useful feature.
Verdict: Arguably a bigger deal than most other items on this list, even though it isn’t talked about as much. This one only matters, of course, if you’re shooting portraits, and you are comparing the Z6 and Z7 against other mirrorless cameras on the market. Nikon’s DSLRs don’t have this feature, either, so at least Nikon didn’t remove any features that its current users have seen before.
Hopefully, this article gave you a chance to look at the Z6 and Z7 announcements from a slightly different angle. There are issues with these two cameras – no doubt about it. However, on balance, none of the problems seems fatal, especially since there are essentially no direct side-by-side tests out yet. It will take some time before reviews trickle in and we know exactly how they stand for sure.
So, anywhere online that you see uncritical praise of these cameras is willfully blind – but, by the same token, “Nikon failed” predictions are just fatalistic clickbait. I have no doubt that the problems above will sway certain users away from the Z6 and Z7, and that’s totally reasonable – Nikon absolutely missed the boat in some areas, and it seems they’re paying the price.
But, on balance, these look like perfectly good camera releases, right about at reasonable expectations for a first-generation release from a high-quality company. Some users will find them perfect for their needs – I’ve already placed a pre-order, and so have other members of the PL team – while just as many will be happy sticking with their DSLR or other company’s mirrorless kit.
At the end of the day, most issues with the Z6 and Z7 are down to the reality not living up to the extreme hype. But when does it ever do that?
Could we find out if Z6/7 have provision for digitising neg and trans. As is the case with D850?
Or Nikon held it back for future model. That would be very sad for me. I have recently acquired ES2 and was planning to go for D 850 since D750 that I own does not convert neg to positive. But I held back thinking of going for Z7. What do I do now.? Any advice?
Once again thank you for a well written and informative article. Regarding battery life, with both Nikon and Canon entering ML market, I wonder if someone should develop a better set of measurements to gauge battery life based on individual usage type; (i.e. shooting still using EVF only, shooting still using live view, …etc). Almost like EPA rating of City vs Hwy gas mileage. I think single number of CIPA rating just does not seem sufficient going forward.
I was enthused when I red the first articles about the Z series.
But the more I am digging in reading, watching the less I feel I will purchase one.
I have a full battery of F lenses and the D810 and D850 and I started to contemplate what the Z serie would do for me.
There is only ONE thing that tempts me a lot as I am traveling heavily around the world – that is – weight and size.
BUT hooking up the F Lenses with an adapter diminishes this one to 500gram spare of the body.
3x more batteries to compensate their short life even more.
One card slot is another one that repels me.
I don’t want to fly to Australia and end up after a model shooting with a broken card – as unlikely as it is.
So in essence I will wait at least until Nikon delivers a 24-70 and 70-200 f2.8 then the Z line could be something for travel photography for me that I would consider.
I am pretty sure that the existing Z models are pro-sumer ones, as the D750 was – the left upper dial indicates this.
Spoke with Nikon tech rep tonight at Adorama. He confirmed that the FTZ adapter does not effect the focal length. I had figured that if it did not effect the focal length, the thickness of the adapter had to do with maintaining the distance between the rear element and the sensor, and that is so.
Battery life: I think the 300 +/- shots reported previously is probably much less than what most shooters will get. I always get 1000+ shots from a fully charge En-EL 15 battery in the D750 and 810, and unless live view is on continually, I would expect the same on the Z bodies. The tech rep said he got 900 shots and he said the Nikon ambassadors have reported getting 1200-1500 shots. As always YMMV, but I don’t think battery life should be a deal breaker.
The tech rep had no information about whether a second card slot would be added in a future generation of Z bodies. He made the case as did the Nikon sales rep that XQD cards are very reliable and they didn’t see it as a concern. But they won’t lose a client or their job entirely if a card fails as I could.
The SB-910 and 900 are NOT on their compatible equipment chart. I asked the rep about that. He said they hadn’t tested a 910 yet.
I did not try any test shots, at some point I will rent one for a weekend and do real world shooting. Held it and panned a bit. The Z bodies have a nice design and feel, they are smaller, similar to the size of the FM/FE/FA bodies and will not perhaps not feel as comfortable with heavy lenses attached.
I remain disappointed and am unlikely to buy this line anytime soon. I believe as noted previously that the main target for the Z bodies and lenses are enthusiasts, with working professionals secondary. This first zoom, 24-70/4, confirms that, F/4 is more for enthusiasts. Neither of their reps at Adorama tonight wanted to hear any concerns from the professional perspective. The sales rep gave me the spiel about the Nikon ambassadors, and did so in a way saying they were the real voices for professionals. We will see. I covered a press event this morning, only professional photographers there, many longtime Nikon shooters, people I have known for years, not one said they were interested in these first Z bodies or lenses.
You’re all talking about your thoughts of pre-production models here? :)
The lens roadmap says pretty clearly that Nikon doesn’t see these as sports or wildlife cameras.
Nothing longer than 200mm.
Thanks Nasim, a very realistic and mature approach to your views. Appreciate the unbiased and direct approach. Good stuff!!
For landscape and other more contemplative photography the Z6 and Z7 look like a good choice but for wildlife, they seem to offer no advantages and worse, a number of important drawbacks when compared to their DSLR equivalents.
1. Single slot card – perhaps not a major issue for wildlife as cards today can be large and are pretty reliable, but if I was a wedding or event photographer contracted to deliver on an unrepeatable shoot, I would quake in my boots at the possibility of a corrupted card and no in-camera backup. Even for wildlife, having a second card for overflow or backup is invaluable. There’s nothing more frustrating than a full card when the action is hot.
2. The autofocus system – an unknown system which has some unproven, not to say, eccentric features. Expanded dynamic range modes, a staple of most wildlife photographers are gone except one 9AF point mode. Group AF, another staple, also gone. And the so-called ‘tracking autofocus’ looks plain weird requiring two presses on the AF button – one to start and another to stop AF. Missed shots anyone? Tellingly, Nikon’s publicity material is very thin on wildlife and high speed action examples. I wonder why. Too many unknowns on autofocus performance and autofocus area modes at present.
3. Frame Rates – Nikon’s performance figures look well massaged as the claimed 12FPS (Z6) and 9FPS (Z7) are only realisable when shooting 12 bit RAW. At 14 bits the FPS collapses to around 7/8FPS respectively. Worse, auto exposure is frozen at more than 5.5 FPS, being fixed at the value metered for the first frame in a burst and even worse, the live view ceases to update. What on earth is the point of a high speed camera with no live of the subject in the viewfinder? Good luck with tracking a fast moving subject with that combination. In truth, these are 5 FPS cameras with some worrying features.
4. Buffer – err, small. The Z6 can manage 23 shots at 12 bit but only 9 at 14bit. The Z6 manages 36 at 12bit but both slump to around 16-18 at 14bit. Compare that with the D850 – 84 shots at 12 bit and 37 shots at 14 bit at around the same frame rates claimed for the Z7 and Z6.
5. Battery life – err, short. 330 claimed and In no way comparable to a decent DSLR. There’s nothing more frustrating than a flat battery when the action is hot.
6. Silent/electronic shutter – with 1/15sec read speed, it’s useless for action photography.
So, in at least three respects of utmost importance to wildlife photographers these two cameras are significantly inferior to even a fairly modest DSLR. They compare very poorly to the D850 and D500 and as things stand I wouldn’t contemplate buying one, especially not until the autofocus system has been shown to outperform Nikon’s current superb offerings.
In fact, for wildlife, even the D7500 is a better option – the same excellent sensor as the D500, excellent and well proven autofocus system, 8FPs frame rate and a 50 shot buffer at a cost half that of the Z6 and a third that of the Z7. As things stand, these are not professional tools and as enthusiast cameras they are very expensive
I will be keeping my hands in my pockets for the time being or rather, I will wait for the Z6/Z7 buying hysteria to get fully underway and then snap up a couple of D850s when the prices plummet.
Thom Hogan has posted some good commentaries on the Z cameras, single-card, lenses, etc.
If he’s right on Nikon’s intention behind the design of the Z cameras, the D850’s price is not going to plummet any time soon.
Best wait till the dust settles and reviews of actual production units come out.
I’m not concerned about the inclusion of only one card-slot. Never had a failure of SD or CF cards with over half a million shots in the last 15 years. What does concern me is the choice of XQD when 128gb costs £250 compared to £35 for a 128gb SD card, or £50 for CF. There is a smell of a bodged technology being forced onto users here. Apparently the XQD will be replaced CFe shortly, so it looks to me like a factory full of XQDs is being badged up by various companies (Delkin, Nikon etc) to flog off ASAP. A bit like when you see lots of laptops today being sold cheaply with 4GB RAM, when you need at least 8GB to run Windows 10 properly.
Sure, the XQD is faster, but I’ve never found SD or CF slow shooting at 10fps on D500, D4 etc. Plus XQD is hardly ubiquitous or flexible; XQD is unlikely to be the future. Currently I use 128gb micro-SD cards in an SD adaptor, so I can slot it into a tablet too. Since they are so expensive, Nikon or the retailers will have to include one XQD card in the Z7/Z6 package for free, or the suspicion of gouging will really dint sales. This is the first time a body has forced a completely esoteric media storage format on consumers without any optionality.
Regarding the AF, when you have 300-odd phase detect points, the traditional D21, D51, Group modes are fairly meaningless. Previously, the options were selected because that’s how the cross type sensors were arranged in the AF module, but now all the points are the same so a much more flexible version should be applied. Canon’s zone system is better to consider when you have so many points; even when it comes to eye-detect, you normally want to have some sort of control as to whose eye is selected.
UPDATE! : Nikon UK is including a 64gb XQD card with Z7 purchases, which is very sensible. Apparently about 50% of the XQD cost is a Sony royalty fee, which should also fall in future.
Tests in the first consumer markets show the CIPA rating for the battery probably includes lots of 4k recording or other high power functions, so much better number of shots are expected for ‘normal’ photography.
Only problem I now have is the ugly F-mount adaptor. The MILCs lower weight implies only small size lenses will balance well, but using small F-mount lenses is going to be uncomfortable with that tripod foot in the way. I wonder if it can be sawn off without damaging the electronics.
That’s great news – hopefully Nikon will do the same for us in the USA and Canada. No, you cannot just remove the tripod foot area, as the adapter surely has quite a bit of electronics in it to drive older lenses…
I don’t believe the adaptor can drive old AF-D lenses unfortunately, so there shouldn’t be too much electronics in the foot area. However, it’s not as bad as I had thought, having seen Lok Cheung’s hands-on review with the 500pf attached via the adaptor, you can see that the foot area is not too big thankfully.
I may be wrong about the FTZ adapter changing effective focal length for F mount lenses. I will ask the Nikon rep tomorrow at the Adorama event.